Meet the MLB aces: Ranking all 30 pitchers scheduled to start on opening day 2020
We made it.
After months of uncertainty regarding the coronavirus pandemic and the labor strife it brought to the surface, opening day has finally arrived.
Granted, it won’t feel like any opening day that’s come before it. The festive atmosphere we’re accustomed to will be replaced by piped in sounds mimicking an actual crowd. It’s the reality of baseball — and life — in 2020.
The circumstances have brought about other notable changes as well. The 162-game season has been cut to 60 games. The designated hitter rule is universal. And extra-innings games ... well, we don’t have time to explain all that right now.
[Still time to join or create a fantasy baseball league for the short season]
One thing that won’t be different? Our annual ranking of all 30 opening day starters. Whether it’s March, April or July, our tradition continues. And this season, the rankings might take on a little extra importance. That’s because with fewer games, each game weighs more in the standings. What happens on opening day still doesn’t define an entire season, but it sets a larger tone.
As always, the group includes future Hall of Famers, former Cy Young winners, up-and-coming aces, and some veterans with something to prove. As for the rankings. They are completely subjective. Past performance is given more weight than future projections, but it is generally based on where each pitcher stands heading into this unique 2020 season.
So without further ado, here is opening day 30.
1. Jacob deGrom — New York Mets
Notables: 2nd OD start — vs. Braves, 4:10 ET, July 24
Accolades: Cy Young (2), Rookie of the Year (2014), All-Star (3)
Career WAR: 33.3 (6 seasons), Since 2017: 21.6
Entering 2020, deGrom is looking to become only the third pitcher — along with Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson — to win three consecutive Cy Young awards. He’s really been on another level the last two seasons, posting a collective 2.05 ERA over 64 starts. His opening day status was a little murky due to a back issue, but manager Luis Rojas believes he’ll be ready to start chasing history on Friday.
2. Max Scherzer — Washington Nationals
Notables: 5th OD start — vs. Yankees, 7:08 ET, July 23
Accolades: Cy Young (3), All-Star (7)
Career WAR: 58.4 (12 seasons), Since 2017: 21.3
This might be the biggest of Scherzer’s five opening day starts. Not only is it Washington’s first game after winning its first World Series title, it’s against the Yankees in the official season opener. Injuries limited Scherzer somewhat in 2019, but he’s still a beast after posting the National League’s best FIP (2.45) and K/9 (12.7).
3. Justin Verlander — Houston Astros
Notables: 12th OD start — at Mariners, 9:10 ET, July 24
Accolades: Cy Young (2), AL MVP (2012), All-Star (8)
Career WAR: 72.1 (15 seasons), Since 2017: 20.7
Verlander, 37, was sidelined in March by lat and groin injuries. Now he's healthy and ready to become just the 10th pitcher in MLB history to make at least 12 opening day starts.
This will be Justin Verlander's 12th career Opening Day start, tying Bert Blyleven & Pete Alexander for 8th-most in the Modern Era (since 1900)
The 7 pitchers w/more in that span: Tom Seaver, Jack Morris, Walter Johnson, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, Roger Clemens
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) July 15, 2020
This will be his third straight for Houston.
While his injuries might be cause for some concern, Verlander has remained brilliant when healthy. He won his second AL Cy Young last season after finishing runner-up in 2018.
4. Gerrit Cole — New York Yankees
Notables: 2nd OD start — @ Nationals, 7:08 ET, July 23
Accolades: All-Star (3), ERA Title (2019)
Career WAR: 23.3 (7 seasons), Since 2017: 14.9
Cole is looking to get some revenge on Washington for last year’s World Series while making a strong impression in his Yankees debut. The 29-year-old right-hander signed a nine-year, $324 million deal this winter. He finished second in the AL Cy Young voting last season after striking out a career-best 326 batters. Plain and simple, he’s a stud.
5. Clayton Kershaw — Los Angeles Dodgers
Notables: 9th OD start — vs. Giants, 10:08 ET, July 23
Accolades: Cy Young (3), NL MVP (2014), All-Star (8), ERA title (5)
Career WAR: 65.3 (12 seasons), Since 2017: 11.4
An injury snapped Kershaw's eight-year opening day streak in 2019. He gets the nod over Walker Buehler, who many feel is poised to take over as L.A.’s ace this season. Not that Kershaw is finished by any means. He posted a 3.03 ERA over 29 games last season. However, another rough postseason will have people focusing on how he bounces back.
6. Aaron Nola — Philadelphia Phillies
Notables: 3rd OD start — vs. Marlins, 7:05 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star (2018)
Career WAR: 20.1 (5 seasons), Since 2017: 18.5
Nola, 27, took a slight step back in 2019. He was in the Cy Young mix for most of 2018, but struggled with inconsistency leading to a 3.87 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 34 starts. Philadelphia bolstered the rotation by signing Zack Wheeler in free agency, but Nola should still serve as the ace for years to come.
7. Madison Bumgarner — Arizona Diamondbacks
Notables: 6th OD start — at Padres, 9:10 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star (4), World Series MVP (2014)
Career WAR: 32.2 (11 seasons), Since 2017: 8.0
It will be weird seeing Bumgarner in anything other than a Giants uniform. He signed a five-year, $85 million deal with Arizona over the winter. Bumgarner, who turns 31 on Aug. 1, is a battle-tested left-hander who has already logged 1,846 regular season innings and another 102 1/3 in the postseason. That's a big number, but when healthy he's always been an ace and a workhorse.
8. Hyun-Jin Ryu — Toronto Blue Jays
Notables: 2nd OD start — at Rays, 6:40 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star, NL ERA title (2019)
Career WAR: 13.5 (6 seasons), Since 2017: 8.5
Ryu, 33, left the Dodgers to sign a Blue Jays record four-year, $80 million deal during the offseason. He has struggled to stay healthy during his MLB career, but proved he is capable of extreme brilliance last season. Ryu posted a league-leading 2.32 ERA and 179 ERA+ while finishing second in the NL Cy Young balloting.
9. Charlie Morton — Tampa Bay Rays
Notables: 1st OD start — vs. Blue Jays, 6:40 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star (2)
Career WAR: 10.0 (12 seasons), Since 2017: 10.7
Morton enjoyed a career revival in Houston, Now is in second season with Tampa Bay, he’ll become the franchise’s oldest (36 years, 255 days) opening day starter. Morton was truly lights out in 2019, finishing third in the AL Cy Young vote after posting career bests in innings (194.2) ERA (3.05 ERA) and FIP (2.81)
10. Jack Flaherty — St. Louis Cardinals
Notables: 1st OD start — vs. Pirates, 8:15 ET, July 24
Career WAR: 8.3 (66 starts, one relief appearance)
Flaherty is one of two 2020 opening day starters from Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles. The other is Lucas Giolito of the White Sox. The 24-year-old right-hander followed his impressive rookie season in St. Louis with a brilliant 2019 campaign, finishing with 231 strikeouts and a NL-best 0.97 WHIP over 196 innings. That was good for fourth in the NL Cy Young award voting.
11. Shane Bieber — Cleveland Indians
Notables: 1st OD start — vs. Royals, 7:10 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star (2019 ASG MVP)
Career WAR: 5.5 (52 starts, two relief appearances)
Bieber, 25, will be Cleveland’s first opening day starter not named Corey Kluber (traded to Texas) since 2014. He earned the assignment with a breakout 2019. Bieber produced All-Star numbers, which included two shutouts, three complete games, and 259 strikeouts over 214 1/3 innings.
12. Kyle Hendricks — Chicago Cubs
Notables: 1st OD start — vs. Brewers, 7:10 ET, July 24
Accolades: NL ERA title (2016)
Career WAR: 20.4 (6 seasons), Since 2017: 10.6
Hendricks, 30, gets the nod over Chicago’s big money hurlers — Jon Lester and Yu Darvish. It’s a well deserved honor. Hendricks has been Chicago’s most consistent pitcher since 2016. He led the league that season with a 2.13 ERA. In 87 starts since, Hendricks has a 3.33 ERA.
13. Lance Lynn — Texas Rangers
Notables: 1st OD start — vs. Rockies, 8:05 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star (2012)
Career WAR: 22.8 (8 seasons), Since 2017: 11.1
Despite the addition of Corey Kluber, Rangers’ manager Chris Woodward will again reward a returning veteran. Last season, the nod went to Mike Minor. This season, it's Lance Lynn. The 33-year-old right-hander is coming off his best season after striking out 246 batters and finishing fifth in the AL Cy Young race.
14. Lucas Giolito — Chicago White Sox
Notables: 1st OD start — vs. Twins, 8:10 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star (2019)
Career WAR: 5.7 (72 starts, two relief appearances)
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Giolito this season. After a dreadful 2018 season, he bounced back with an All-Star campaign in 2019 that showcased his ace potential. Giolito lowered his ERA from 6.00 to 3.41, his FIP from 5.56 to 3.43, and his BB/9 from 4.7 to 2.9. He also raised his K/9 from 6.5 to 11.6. If those continue to improve, he’ll be in the Cy Young discussion.
15. Sonny Gray — Cincinnati Reds
Notables: 3rd OD start — vs. Tigers, 6:10 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star (2)
Career WAR: 18.2 (7 seasons), Since 2017: 8.4
It’s Gray’s first opening day start since 2015 with Oakland. Since then, he’s battled injuries and gone through a rough stint with the Yankees. He seemed to rediscover himself and regain his confidence after a trade to Cincinnati last season. In 31 starts, he posted a 2.87 ERA and a career-best 205 strikeouts.
16. José Berríos — Minnesota Twins
Notables: 2nd OD start — at White Sox, 8:10 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star (2)
WAR Since 2017: 8.6
After posting a negative WAR as a rookie, Berríos has developed into a star. The 25-year-old right-hander is coming off back-to-back All-Star seasons, which is something fans outside of Minnesota might not have noticed. He’ll also make history as just the fourth Puerto Rican-born pitcher (Javier Vázquez, Jaime Navarro, and Ricky Bones) to make multiple opening day starts.
17. Mike Soroka — Atlanta Braves
Notables: 1st OD start — at Mets, 4:10 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star (2019)
Career WAR: 5.5 (34 starts)
Soroka, 22, was one of MLB’s best rookies in 2019. He finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting and sixth in the Cy Young race after posting a sparkling 2.68 ERA in 174 2/3 innings. Julio Teheran had started each of the last six season openers for Atlanta, but now that he’s gone to the Angels, Soroka will take over as Atlanta’s unquestioned ace.
18. Johnny Cueto — San Francisco Giants
Notables: 5th OD start — at Dodgers, 10:08 ET, July 23
Accolades: All-Star (2)
Career WAR: 34.1 (12 seasons), Since 2017: 3.3
Cueto's Giants career hasn't gone to plan. After an All-Star campaign in 2016, he's been limited to 38 total starts the last three seasons due to a myriad of injuries. The good news is Cueto appears to be healthy now. Still just 34, there’s an opportunity for Cueto to find his old form and provide stability in the wake of Madison Bumgarner's departure.
19. Brandon Woodruff — Milwaukee Brewers
Notables: 1st OD start — at Cubs, 7:10 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star (2019)
Career WAR: 3.8 (34 starts, 15 relief appearances)
Woodruff was very good in 2019. He finished with a 3.62 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 121 innings. A two-month stint on the IL prevented a full breakout, but that could come this season. With no notable additions to the rotation, Milwaukee needs Woodruff to be an ace.
20. Chris Paddack — San Diego Padres
Notables: 1st OD start — vs. Diamondbacks, 9:10 ET, July 24
Career WAR: 2.9 (26 starts)
Paddack will be San Diego's eighth different opening day starter in eight seasons. No team in MLB has a longer streak currently. There's a good chance Paddack will be the one to snap that streak based on his excellent rookie season. In 26 starts, he posted a 3.33 ERA while striking out 153 over 140 2/3 innings.
21. German Marquez — Colorado Rockies
Notables: 1st OD start — at Rangers, 8:05 ET, July 24
Career WAR: 11.3 (93 starts, 3 relief appearances)
Like many other young Rockies pitchers, Marquez has had a promising start to his career. The question is whether he can continue developing in baseball's toughest pitching environment. He led the team in innings (174) and strikeouts (175) last season, but did have concerning home (6.26 ERA) and road (3.67 ERA) splits.
22. Matthew Boyd — Detroit Tigers
Notables: 1st OD start — at Reds, 6:10 ET, July 24
WAR since 2017: 7.1
Boyd, 29, is coming off his best overall MLB season in 2019 — 4.56 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 11.6 K/9 in 32 starts — yet it still feels like there's some untapped potential. The strikeout upside is good, but until he limits the long ball — he allowed 39 homers in 2019 — he won't reach true ace status.
23. Danny Duffy — Kansas City Royals
Notables: 3rd OD start — at Cleveland, 7:10 ET, July 24
Career WAR: 17.3 (9 seasons), Since 2017: 6.6
When Duffy takes the hill on July 24, only two Royals’ pitchers — Kevin Appier and Dennis Leonard — will have made more opening day starts. Duffy joins Bret Saberhagen in the three-timers club. Entering his tenth season, Duffy has 3.98 career ERA and is Kansas City’s longest tenured pitcher.
24. Marco Gonzales — Seattle Mariners
Notables: 2nd OD start — at Astros, 9:10 ET, July 24
Career WAR: 5.8 (77 starts, eight relief appearances)
Marco Gonzales makes it back-to-back opening days after snapping Félix Hernández's decade long streak last season. He’ll also be the first pitcher to face the Astros since the sign-stealing scandal broke. The 28-year-old left-hander finished with a 3.99 ERA in 34 starts in 2019.
25. Sandy Alcantara — Miami Marlins
Notables: 1st OD start — at Phillies, 7:05 ET, July 24
Accolades: All-Star (2019)
Career WAR: 3.5 (38 starts, eight relief appearances)
Alcantara, 24, was acquired from St. Louis in 2017 as part of the Marcell Ozuna trade. He was Miami's lone All-Star representative in 2019 and finished the season with a solid 3.88 ERA. He could be poised for a bigger breakout in 2020.
26. Joe Musgrove — Pittsburgh Pirates
Notables: 1st OD start — at Cardinals, 8:15 ET, July 24
Career WAR: 3.7 (75 starts, 25 relief appearances)
When Pittsburgh acquired Musgrove from the Astros in the 2018 Gerrit Cole trade, they no doubt envisioned him making future opening day starts. This will be No. 1. The 27-year-old still has room to grow though after finishing 2019 with a 4.44 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.
27. Frankie Montas — Oakland Athletics
Notables: 1st OD start — vs. Angeles, 10:10 ET, July 24
Career WAR: 2.2 (29 starts, 30 relief appearances)
Montas, 27, will get an immediate chance at redemption after his breakout 2019 season was ruined by an 80-game suspension for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. The 27-year-old finished with a 2.63 ERA in 16 starts, but couldn’t contribute in the postseason due to his suspension.
28. Nathan Eovaldi — Boston Red Sox
Notables: 1st OD start — vs. Orioles, 7:30 ET, July 24
Career WAR: 9.4 (8 seasons), Since 2017: 1.4
With Chris Sale out for the season, David Price traded to Los Angeles and Eduardo Rodriguez not available for opening day, Eovaldi is the next man up. The 30-year-old right-hander missed most of 2019 after undergoing elbow surgery. He finished with a 5.99 ERA across 12 starts and 11 relief appearances.
29. Andrew Heaney — Los Angeles Angels
Notables: 1st OD start — vs. Athletics, 10:10 ET, July 24
Career WAR: 3.9 (6 seasons), Since 2017: 2.2
Heaney, 29, is still looking for a breakthrough season. The oft-injured left-hander has topped 18 starts only once and has a career 4.44 ERA. For those wondering, Shohei Ohtani will reportedly start the Angels’ third game on July 26.
30. Tommy Milone — Baltimore Orioles
Notables: 1st OD start — at Red Sox, 7:30 ET, July 24
Career WAR: 4.7 (9 seasons), Since 2017: 0.4
All-Star John Means has been ruled out due to arm fatigue. He’ll be replaced by journeyman Tommy Milone. It’s a notable downgrade even for Baltimore. Milone, 33, is joining his seventh team in 10 MLB seasons and has a 5.67 ERA since 2016.
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